Entrepreneurs and inventors contribute unique ideas, years of their lives and the salary they could have earned to put “sweat equity” into their businesses. Many even remortgage their houses, only to be diluted significantly for pitiful amounts of investment from Dragons’ Den-type “angels” or government grant schemes acting as venture capitalists.
Even when they get beyond that stage, they face the hurdle of gaining venture investment to scale the business. Frequently, the mindset of UK investors is to get rid of the innovators as too much of a commercial risk, meaning that no company like Google could ever emerge here where real business value depends on constant innovation or adapting innovation to new circumstances. UK companies often therefore plateau into directionless AIM shells, and never experience the potential of great returns; or in the rare cases where risk is rewarded, those returns are hammered by a tax system that makes little distinction between an entrepreneur, a private equity tycoon and a buy-to-let investor.
In the meantime, bank executives pocketed billions in bonuses in January last year and have ring-fenced themselves billions again this year despite making massive losses. Those losses have devastated pension funds, wasting years of ordinary people’s hard work (unless they have a guaranteed civil service pension). They have created a pensioner, houseowner and graduate population who can now only “look forward in anger” as they suffer personally the aftermath of a financial culture that chose mainly to reward those who gambled or moved capital around, rather than those who created and delivered value.
And as this system lies broken and discredited, the House of Commons pays out our taxpayers’ money to see it cycle back into bank bonuses or fall into the pockets of Lords.
So what can we do? Until things change, we might as well all take the day off and make snowmen as many did earlier this month. Even though it melts away, like our pensions and investments, it is more real and can at least give a fleeting moment of pleasure.
Or we can recognise that the heart and the future of the British economy lies in innovation, in the historic engineering and science skills that built our nation. And that means rewarding those who take risks and deliver value.